Kill Art Block Now with Enclosed Shapes

A common refrain I hear from students is “drawing backgrounds is hard”. Let’s demystify this notion once and for all with some actionable techniques you can use to improve your background designs. After all, skill building is a great way to kill art block. Let’s start with drawing an opening. It can be any enclosed shape. Below are a few such shapes that I’ve come up with.

Let’s start with some simple shapes that will serve as the opening “door” or “window” of our composition

Now, let’s take one of our enclosed shapes and plan our composition. In the image below, I’m establishing a horizon line first. Next, I’ll draw a vertical line that intersects the horizontal line. In each sketch, the vertical line is drawn perpendicular to the horizon line. Finally, the enclosed shape is placed at the intersection of the two lines.

Using one of the openings we drew, we can place it in the center of our orthographic “cross hairs”. The horizontal and vertical lines are at 90 degrees to one another.

Note that I’m deliberately avoiding placing the vertical and horizontal lines in the center. I’m looking for interesting angles that will make the composition more visually interesting.

Applying the same process as above with a more complicated opening.

Once we have established the location of the enclosed shape, we can utilize our knowledge of grids to establish the depth within our space. Here we can add walls, stairs or other structures (i.e. shelves) to flesh out the space.

Adding a grid to establish the topology for the space.
Add walls and stairs to give your composition more visual interest.

Next, we can take one of our thumbnails and expand on it by way of a rough sketch. In this case, I’m drawing a kitchen.

Initial development from thumbnail.
Sketch refinement
Color flats
Final image with inks, textures and colors.
Variation using shapes instead of inks.

There’s more to say on the subject of background layout, but that will come in a future blog post. As always, your comments are welcome!


  1. Alright! – Been watching some of this activity for a while, K!
    Liking the “Hulk Smash” attitude to break the blocks.
    Also great to see you doing this.
    Question –
    – After you did the “inks”, what/how did you use/do to make the “shapes” version? specifically please? 🙂 .

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